Mullen: Military Workplace Needs More Flexibility

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2010 — Rec­og­niz­ing and find­ing ways to accom­mo­date the chang­ing needs of ser­vice­mem­bers and their fam­i­lies with regard to the mil­i­tary work­place should be a pri­or­i­ty for lead­ers, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yes­ter­day.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke as part of a pan­el on work and life bal­ance at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Focus on Work­place Flex­i­bil­i­ty Con­fer­ence.

The audi­ence was com­posed of more than 100 gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary and busi­ness lead­ers.

“The abil­i­ty to be the best we can be and car­ry out our mis­sions is so cen­tral to our focus on our peo­ple, … but more than our peo­ple, our fam­i­lies,” Mullen said, “and while we’ve made sig­nif­i­cant strides, we still have a long way to go.”

Allow­ing flex­i­ble options that affect the num­ber of hours worked and the places where employ­ees work is one way lead­ers can help in pro­vid­ing bal­ance between work and fam­i­ly life, the chair­man said, cit­ing flex time and com­pressed work weeks, part-time work, job shar­ing and tele­work­ing as exam­ples.

The fed­er­al focus on flex­i­bil­i­ty began March 31, when Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma spoke at a White House forum about mod­ern­iz­ing the work­place to meet the needs of today’s employ­ees and their fam­i­lies.

“Work­place flex­i­bil­i­ty isn’t just a women’s issue,” the pres­i­dent said. “It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our fam­i­lies and the suc­cess of our busi­ness­es. It affects the strength of our econ­o­my [and] whether we’ll cre­ate the work­places and jobs of the future we need to com­pete in today’s glob­al econ­o­my.”

For mil­i­tary lead­ers, Mullen said last night, more than nine years of war has put a new focus on fam­i­lies.

“We have to fig­ure out a way to put our peo­ple and our fam­i­lies in the cen­ter of our uni­verse and then move from there to gen­er­ate the kind of suc­cess that we’re capa­ble of,” he said.

Tak­ing cues from the busi­ness world, mil­i­tary lead­ers must rec­og­nize the plight of ser­vice­women who must choose between start­ing a fam­i­ly or con­tin­u­ing a mil­i­tary career, Mullen said. Some, he not­ed, move to the pri­vate sec­tor, where such flex­i­bil­i­ty is increas­ing­ly being accom­mo­dat­ed.

“We’re in a search for tal­ent just like every­body else, and we have to fig­ure out a way to answer that par­tic­u­lar issue or we will be com­ing up short for a long time,” Mullen said. The mil­i­tary must con­tin­ue to move for­ward in help­ing its work force bal­ance their jobs and their lives, the chair­man told the group.

“Any­body who has dealt with change in busi­ness or in the mil­i­tary knows the con­tin­u­ous require­ment to improve, he said. “We know we’ve made some mar­gin­al improve­ments, but we … still have an awful long way to go.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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